How to Deal With Limitations as an SCA Survivor

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There are certain restrictions that come with surviving a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) and living with an ICD. Depending on your heart condition, that list of restrictions may be longer than for other survivors.

Either way, no one likes to be told they suddenly have to stop doing something they love doing. 

The list of things I had to stop doing is, I believe, a pretty standard one that many cardiac arrest survivors receive. 

I was told to avoid any sports that would raise my heartbeat over 130 beats per minute, which, honestly, is a bit absurd. If I followed this rule of my cardiologist to the letter, I can’t go for a run or even walk up a steep hill.

I was also told to stop scuba diving—something I love doing! I also can’t engage in any contact sports, like a fighting sport or acro yoga. And I can’t do anything that may damage the ICD, like snowboarding or motocross. (However, I have discovered a workaround by wearing the Vital Beat t-shirt, which makes these activities possible. Check the article I wrote about the shirt.)

Still, this list of restrictions wasn’t easy for me to accept.

On top of that, the list may get even longer with all sorts of symptoms you may experience in the aftermath of surviving this cardiac arrest or with the worsening condition of your heart. 

For me, feelings of dizziness, brain fog, nausea, and blurred vision have become a consistent part of each day.

These conditions have put a limitation on the things I can do with friends, trips I can go on, and sports I can engage in due to my lack of energy and the general feelings of sickness that I have to manage.

The list feels endless. And at times, it only seems to grow longer.

Having had all these possibilities my whole life, having enjoyed them all, and having felt great whilst doing them, it is a major struggle for me to deal with this sudden restriction. 

At times, it makes me wonder if surviving this cardiac arrest was such a miracle after all. It often rather feels like a curse inflicted upon me.

You certainly have your own list of things you are not allowed to do anymore since your sudden cardiac arrest. 

Depending on how big a role sports played in your pre-SCA life and how you generally feel from day to day, it can be easy to slip into dark thoughts and feel that everything has been taken from you.

Now, here is something that you can do to aid you, at least a bit, and give you insight and hope that all may not be entirely lost.

It is a simple exercise that can be adjusted to different situations, and I use it in therapy with my clients when I believe it may help them.

I recently applied it to my life and my condition. And whilst it will not magically fix everything, it at least eases the pain and brings me moments of happiness, calmness, and gratitude throughout this rollercoaster ride that my life has become. 

The Exercise:

The exercise is in truth very simple and can be explained in one sentence: Write down anything that you can still do.

This can be both major things and small things. Once you’ve done this (and feel free to add more to this list of things you can do), hang it up somewhere that you can often see it. Like your fridge, for example. Or on the home screen of your phone using the Google Keep widget.

Whenever you feel bad—either mentally or physically—due to your cardiac arrest or your heart problem, look at this list, and try to add something new to it. 

More importantly, do one of the things you can do at that moment and try to remind yourself that, while life has become more restricted in some ways, there are many more things you can do that can bring the experience of joy or gratitude.

Here is my list, or at least part of it, to give you an example.

List of things that I still can do:

  1. Watch nature
  2. Listen to music
  3. Watch people
  4. Play my guitar and piano
  5. Have sex
  6. Climb
  7. Go to a sauna
  8. Enjoy the taste of food and drinks
  9. Talk with friends
  10. Read a book (or an audiobook)
  11. Be kind to people
  12. Help people
  13. Play video games and boardgames
  14. Laugh and smile
  15. Enjoy a cup of tea or coffee 
  16. Receive a hug from someone
  17. Cuddle with my girlfriend
  18. Kiss my girlfriend
  19. Continue doing my work (on The IPS Project, The Heart Warrior Project, and giving therapy)
  20. Go outside and breathe fresh air
  21. Watch a good movie or TV series
  22. Take a warm shower
  23. ….

In addition to writing down things you can still do, it can also be helpful to include another topic on your list: ‘New things that you are allowed to do’. 

Here, look for new possibilities within the lines of the restrictions you have. It may help open these lines a bit more than you initially thought possible. It can also help to give a sense of excitement to your current life and the future, knowing that there are still new things that you are allowed to do.

Also, add something to your list whenever you think of something new that you are still allowed to do and want to do. And, at some point when you feel ready, go and try one of them!

New things that I am still allowed to do:

  1. Start kayaking
  2. Learn salsa 
  3. Take singing lessons

Try this exercise. 

Truly. 

It is simple, yet can be very effective. Grab a piece of paper or your phone, if you have not already done so, and start your list of things that you can still do and new things that you are allowed to do. 

There is a long list of things that are still possible.

 No, I am not saying these changes might not still frustrate you, as they are certainly still frustrating for me, but they can at least lift your spirits and make you realize that life still has a lot to offer.

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Do you have a question? Would you like to share anything?

If you have any questions about the exercise, don’t hesitate to ask me down below in the comments! I always try my best to answer all your questions.

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